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Authors: Kendall Ryan

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BOOK: Hard to Love
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My parents insisted on dessert, since it was my birthday after all, so
I forced down several bites of cheesecake before
saying
goodbye to my parents
. Once they were gone,
I made my way to the
restroom
inside the
restaurant
and sc
anned my appearance in the full-
length mirror. I adjusted the spaghetti straps
of
the form
-
fitting
,
cream-colored sundress
and smoothed the fabric over my hips
.
Everything about my look, from the coral gloss
on my lips
to
my
French
-
pedicured feet encased
in
gold
designer
sandals
ensured Cade would understand I was
way out of his league
.
Satisfied I looked as good as I could manage on a hangover I straightened my shoulders and grabbed my handbag.
This
had nothing to do with seeing Cade again, and everything to do with letting him see what he’d never have.

When I pulled up in front
of
715 Evergreen Terrace, I figured there
had to be
some
sort of
mistake. He’d probably given me
a
fake address, since I doubted Cade,
the
porn-star
hottie
lived in this suburban
,
middle
-
class neighborhood.

I put my car into park and switched off the
engine
. The house itself was small, but neat and tidy,
its white siding freshly painted. A
row of trimmed hedges
bordered
the  small
yard.

A black pick-up truck was parked in the driveway, but other than that, there was no telling if
anyone
was home. I checked my
appearance
in the r
earview mirror one last
time,
took a deep breath and left the safety of my car before I chickened out completely.

I didn’t get very far
.
A
school bus had stopped on the corner, letting off a small army of children. The noisy kids
scattered in different directions,
parad
ing
home along the streets and sidewalks, but my attention was momentarily captured by a
bright-eyed
little girl
,
smaller than all the rest,
who
hobbl
ed
her way past me with
the help of
a tiny walker.
She spared me a curious glance, but continued on, her eyes shining with determination.


Caden
!” she called, struggling to make her legs carry her in the direction of the house, where Cade
had appeared
o
n the front
lawn
. He crossed the last few feet separating them and lifted her easily from the ground
,
the walker
momentarily left aside
.

“How was school
,
baby girl?” 
He planted a kiss in her blonde curls before
lowering
her to the ground.

“It was good. I
colored a picture of a butterfly for you today.”

“Yeah?
That sounds real nice. Is it in your backpack?”

She nodded, her curls bouncing as she did so. The pink backpack was nearly as big as she was. I thought maybe he’d take the bag from her shoulders, or help her up the ramp
that led up
to the porch, but he just looked
on
proudly as her little
figure
slowly shuffled up
ward
, pushing the walker out in front of her
with each step
.

The little girl had captured Cade’s complete attention and he’d yet to
even
notice me. 

“Cade?” My voice
sounded
shaky and uneven
even to my own ears.

He spun around and looked at
me
, still waiting by my car at the curb.
“Alexa?”
Confusion
etched into his features,
creasing his brow.

Shit
. I
so
should not have come. All my earlier venom about wanting to tell him off had evaporated
at watching him with the little girl
.

I watched as he connected the dots in his head, and the
surprised expression on his face disappeared, a slow smile curving his lips
. “
So you really want to go through with it, do you?

And the venom was back. I marched across the yard
, stopping just in front of him,
and
jabb
ed
my finger into his chest. “I’m not here to have sex with you, you sleazebag. You didn’t think I’d show, so I only came
here
to prove
y
ou wrong.”

The front door open
ed
and the little girl peeked out.

Caden
?”
Her voice was
full of question
s
and her eyes widen
ed
at the sight of me so close to Cade
.
I dropped my hand from his chest
and stepped back
.
It was hard to be mad at him when such a sweet little girl obviously adored him.


It’s
okay, Lily. Go on back in the house. I’ll be
in
to help you with your stretches in
just a
minute
.”

She scratched her belly and sighed.
“Can you make me a peanut butter and jelly?”

He chuckled. “
Sure will. Go turn on your ‘
toons
for a minute.”


M’kay
!” she called happily, closing the door behind her as she disappeared inside.

“Is she…yours?”

He ran a hand across his hair and blew out a frustrated breath. “
Lily’s
my sister, but I have full custody. I have since she was three.”

“Oh.” He was raising his little sister?
I took a step back at the weight of this new information.
The strong bond between them was undeniable.

Is it
scoliosis?”
I asked softly.


Spina
bifida,” he
said,
his eyes far
away.

“Oh,” I said again.
I knew it was a crippling childhood disease that left
the
spine twisted and
often
affected
the legs
, but not much else. “I’m sorry.”

“We manage,” he bit out
.

“I can see that. Look, I’m sorry. Why don’t we just forget I ever came here
?”
I wanted to take another step back, to disappear entirely, but I remained where I was
, fighting the urge to run
.

“Why did you come here?” His
gaze
sparked with curiosity, the challenge in his tone unmistakable.

His eyes raked
over my skin
, and
sent a brief chill skittering down my spine.
I cursed myself for wearing this damn sundress and for how much skin
was showing. My breasts pressed
against the thin cotton fabric
,
remind
ing
me this dress didn’t accommodate for a bra and left me feeling a little too on display.
I hated how his mere presence left me off balance and reeling.

“At least a
little
part of you was curious. You wouldn’t have shown up otherwise.”
He
touched
my shoulder, his thumb brushing along
the exposed
flesh
next to the
strap of my dress.

My eyes shut briefly at the intensity in his caress, and
I
uselessly
opened and closed my mouth, unable to respond.
Heck
yeah
,
I was curious. I was curious what his stubble-covered
jaw
would feel like against my skin and what his full mouth would feel like covering mine.

He dropped his hand, seemingly unaware of the panty-melting effect he was having on me. “Just so you know
,
I wasn’t trying to embarrass you, or take advantage. I
was trying to preserve some of your dignity. Your
one
friend was practically auctioning you off, and your other friend was ready to whip out his dick and take you right there. You should be thanking me.”

Thanking him? Yeah
,
right. But I guess it had put him in an awkward situation
,
too.
“Well
,
I only came here to tell you never mind. That I wasn’t interested.”

“Really
?
That’s why you drove all the way over here?”
One of his eyebrows quirked upward in disbelief
.

My cheeks reddened.
I suppose
d
curiosity had more than a little to do with it

W
ell
,
that
,
and I’d have done
just about
anything to get away from my mother’s afternoon shopping plans for us.


We both know
there

s more to it than that
. A small part of you
want
s
this
, but I can be patient.
I’ve got all the time in the world.

He was right that I did want it, but I wasn’t about to tell him that. His
cockiness was now really beginning to get on my nerves.
“Get over yourself. It’ll be a cold day in hell when I come asking you for sex.”

He
laughed
at my sudden outburst
,
the sound
full and throaty.
“Whatever you say, cupcake.”
He glanced back at the house where I knew his sister was waiting for him.

Hearing him mention
about
helping her with her stretches sent my mind tumbling in the direction of nursing school, and trying to remember what I knew about issues with the spine. “Does she go to physical therapy?

“Not anymore. I couldn’t afford to keep it up, so I had the therapist teach me the exercises I could do with her at home.”

“Oh.” I seemed to keep saying that, increasingly finding myself at a loss for
words
.  Over the past
few
minutes he’d transformed from an ultra-sexy
,
bad
-
for
-
you porn star into a loving, caring human being. He clearly loved his sister and worried over her condition. I didn’t know what to do with this new information.

I have to go.
Besides, you have a PB and J to make.”
I held my face impassive, trying like hell not to let him see
just how confused I was becoming
.

“Yeah, okay.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets, his
forearms flexing with movement, a smug smile still on his lips.

I turned and
headed
for my car, his chuckle grating over my
skin
for what I assumed was the last time. How wrong I was.

 

Chapter
5

Cade

 

I stalked inside
to
find Lily planted in front of the TV, happily watching her ‘
toons
. I headed back to the kitchen to fix her snack. As I smeared peanut butter on the bread, I shook my head in disbelief
over the realization
that Alexa had actually shown up. And I strongly doubted it was to tell me off, like she’d implied. I could read the curiosity on her face
as
clear as day.

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